The breakout experimental short,
“The Solipsist,” is an exploration in creativity, concept, and beauty.
Director Andrew Huang’s vision of a post-apocalyptic world—drenched in pigment—examines relationships, duality, and transience through a lens of color and texture.
By nature, the Kickstarter-funded film is as graphic as it is conceptual, and owes part of its accolades (a 2012 Special Jury Prize at Slamdance and an Official Selection from the San Francisco International Film Festival) to a genius wardrobe and beauty team, comprised of costume designer Lindsey Mortensen and hair and makeup artist Jennifer Cunningham. We caught up with Andrew and Jennifer to explore the thought-provoking visuals of the piece.
You’ve transported us into a world where Jim Henson meets single-celled organisms. Tell us about the film's concept.
Andrew: For me, the film is about connections. I've always been interested in the gaps between living things and how we fill those gaps. Sort of like synapses between neurons. I also just wanted to make a piece that was really playful and free.
Jennifer: At first, Andrew didn’t reveal too much about the concept to me. He wanted people to figure it out for themselves. It is creation? Is it earth? If he revealed it too early, it might have predisposed something different in my mind. Initially, he mentioned the sea creatures and the elements, and wanted the hair and makeup to bring in colors and textures into the whole film.
How did you two get involved together for the project?
Andrew: Jennifer is such a seasoned artist who has worked with a long list of amazing directors. It was an honor to collaborate with her and it was her idea to introduce elements like feathers and daring accent colors on the face that really made the piece so much more exciting and bold. Both Lindsey [Mortensen] and Jennifer had a huge impact on the color palette. I couldn't have done it without them.
Jennifer: I worked with Andrew shooting several commercials. He called me about the project and I understood how creative he wanted hair and makeup to be—of course I wanted to get involved. I love fashion, I love to do wild and crazy things. I used to work for Make Up For Ever in the New York pro store. I did body painting and conceptual special FX—airbrush, jewels. I love pretty, I don't love gore.
The makeup direction—how did it connect to the synaptic feel of the film?
Andrew: The film is very much about bodies, and therefore is also very much about impermanence. I had Buddhist and Navajo sand paintings on my mind—the way that they destroy their own paintings after spending hours crafting them. I was aiming for something cosmic and violent, yet beautiful. It's about dissolving—boundaries collapsing, transience.
Jennifer: Andrew wanted texture. He had a few keywords and references in mind—mandala, sand paintings, and tribal African makeup. He gave me a general, colorful direction and asked me to interpret and contribute my own references in as well. I brought in the feathers. Texturally, they fit with the sea creatures and the wardrobe.
The piece is a kaleidoscope of pigment.
Jennifer: Well, Andy wanted bright colors that read incredibly vibrant on camera. Colors that were saturated. Blues, pinks, orange, and yellows showed well on film. When we started veering towards red, it became too dark. Even green—it needed to be super bright, like a kelly green.
Andrew: Lindsey had first chosen to make the girls' outfits salmon colored. I was hesitant at first, but Lindsey totally won me over. It was a fresh and daring color that ended up making their styling so much more provocative. Jennifer responded by choosing makeup that was intentionally messier and bolder. We were looking at a lot of references, talking about what the overall mood and goal of the film was, and I left it up to Jennifer how to treat the girls' eyes and complexion. We were going for something tribal and apocalyptic, something both haunting and magical at the same time.
"We were going for something tribal and apocalyptic, something both haunting and magical at the same time."
Andrew Huang, Director
The beauty look in the first scene is gorgeous and otherworldly—how did you decide on that?
Jennifer: Andy and I talked about it a lot. We all agreed a color wash would be really beautiful, it fit the characters and was a fashion/beauty look. Still a little bit edgy. Hair-wise, we wanted them to look impish. Feather headpieces poked out of their head, so we gave the shorter-haired girl a pixie, fairy-like style. We braided the other model. It was an aesthetic choice, really. The clothes were very woven, feathered everywhere.
And the yarn-bullseye makeup—it's crafted tribal. How did it get there?
Andrew: I had made some drawings of two bodies dissolving into each other, like the spiraling coil of a tornado. I thought then it would make the most sense to have makeup that was also spiraling and concentric. I wanted to create a look that was crafty and self-referential—yarn that wasn't pretending to be anything else. Embracing the decorative and ornamental. I gave her a bunch of yarn and let her run with it.
Jennifer: It was an exercise in design decisions. Andy wanted a three-dimensional look with a lot of texture—more than I knew how to create with just makeup. Raw yarn comes in a million different textures—fuzzy, thin, thick—and in every color of the rainbow. He responded to it because it tied into the feeling and texture of the first wardrobe piece on the girls.
What makeup did you actually use to achieve such a bright effect on camera?
Jennifer: I mostly used the Make Up For Ever Flash Color Palette as a base eye shadow in the first scene. I also used the brand's water-based Aquarelle paints as well for most scenes.
Such a creative collaboration—what was was the energy like on set?
Jennifer: There was a lot going on. You do these projects and you don’t know what it’s going to look like post-production. I was really nervous—Andrew had such a strong idea of things that he wanted, and my job was to translate his vision to the camera. My hands bring to life whatever crazy thing is going on in Andy’s head. This isn’t a commercial, it’s somebody’s art piece. You have to ask yourself, am I going to elevate their art? You do it for the director, you do it for the love.
"You have to ask yourself, am I going to elevate their art? You do it for the director, you do it for the love."